LOCATED along the busy Jalan Maharajalela in Kuala Lumpur is the LLG Cultural Development Centre, a humble heritage centre that tells the long story of vernacular education development in Malaysia.
Inside, a statue of Lim Lian Geok stands tall. A close observation will reveal that the statue is facing Stadium Merdeka; with some interpreting this to mean that conversations between him and the country’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman have not ended.
Lim is a big name for the Chinese-speaking community as well as those who believe in vernacular education.
To give an idea of his stature, his funeral in 1985 drew more than 10,000 to the KL Chinese Assembly Hall to pay their last respects.
He was not rich nor high-ranking, he was only a teacher who experienced the worst of poverty but still scraped everything from his pockets to improve the country’s education system.
His selflessness, sacrifices and struggle for the rights of mother-tongue education had him regarded as the “Soul of the Malaysian Chinese”.
However, his advocacy is still misunderstood by some quarters, and clarifying misconceptions becomes one of the many missions of the centre that strives to convey Lim’s ideal – “Abundance in Diversity, Prosperity in Co-existence”.
“The idea to build a memorial centre to pay tribute to Lim was mooted by 15 associations after his death but the costs involved delayed the project until 2007. In the mean time, a foundation was formed to continue promoting his principles,” said the centre’s curator Dr Ser Wue Hiong.
“The funds were raised throughout the years, while the committee spent years setting up this place that finally opened its doors in 2014.
“We did not disregard objections from some in the Chinese community against this project as they felt it was a financial burden, but the majority supported it and led to its fruition.
“What Lim did for the country’s education system was too important but his contributions went mostly unrecorded, therefore we hope this centre can highlight his contributions,” he said.
The exhibition space designed by heritage activist Teo Chee Keong – complete with Lim’s prized belongings and creative interactive tools – is set against a backdrop replicating Lim’s wooden house.
It starts with how Lim realised his calling to teach and resolved to pursue a career doomed to poverty – the state of a teacher in the pre-war era was so deplorable that a colleague even swore to never allow his kin to be one.
Old photos, writings, newspaper cuttings were woven neatly to chronicle Lim’s crusade, from fighting for teachers’ welfare, rebuilding war-torn schools to pushing for inclusion of all four streams of primary schools (Bahasa Melayu, English, Chinese and Tamil) into the national education system, as eventually enshrined in the 1956 Razak Report.
Narrations of the exhibition are in three languages in adherence to Lim’s cross-culture stand. His works have also been translated for the benefit of all visitors to understand this patriot, who called upon the Chinese to identify themselves as Malayans even before independence, and for all to unite and love the country.
“We take promoting inter-racial interaction as one of our roles, in line with Lim’s call for co-existence in nation-building. Our centre and activities are open to all, and we welcome everyone to use this space to celebrate our unity in diversity.
“Lim championed vernacular education, not just the Chinese language for Chinese, but for all groups to have the rights and equality to preserve their language and culture.
“Our visiting Tamil school counterparts strongly concurred with Lim’s ideals, and later translated his works into Tamil,” Dr Ser added.
The exhibition takes on a poignant note as it unfolds that Lim’s citizenship and teaching licence were revoked in 1961, following his strong opposition against a new policy that required all secondary schools to only teach in English or Bahasa Melayu if they wanted government funding.
“He was only asking for fairness for all types of education, including vernacular. From an academic perspective, the vernacular system is the most effective form of education as the learners are most familiar with their mother tongues.
“Also, as globalisation is in full steam, one’s native language is most effective in carrying and passing on the culture stretching through the centuries. That is why vernacular education is important,” Dr Ser added.
The centre raises funds for its maintenance through activities throughout the year, with the annual LLG Walk being the major event.
There have been a good number of school visits to the centre, as apart from pressing for education equality, Lim’s dedication as a teacher would take one’s breath away and set a good example for students and teachers.
LLG Cultural Development Centre is located at 89 & 91, Jalan Maharajalela, Kuala Lumpur. It can be reached at 03-2142 2496/2497.
The centre is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, closed on Sunday and public holidays.